FROM the beginning of Springfield's history the shadow of human slavery had rested upon it. Many of the town's first inhabitants were from the South, and some of them held slaves in their new home through the device of long-term indentures. On the other hand, there were Yankee residents even from the very out|set. Naturally, the convention struggle of 1824 aroused the little hamlet no less deeply than the older communities. The murder of Lovejoy in 1837 stirred passions in Springfield, as elsewhere in Illinois. The Mexican War, with its potential extension of the institution, and the Wilmot proviso, devised to block that extension, found both opponents and pro|tagonists in the prairie capital. Influential citizens were active members of the colonization society, which sought to palliate the scourge of slavery by purchasing slaves, emancipating them, and "colonizing" them in Liberia. Only now and then was the shadow deep black and clearly defined. Much of the time it was so faint as to be barely perceptible. But it was never wholly absent.
Therefore it was unavoidable that the bitter slavery con|troversy of 1850, which threatened for a time to wreck the Union, should have reverberations in Springfield. Trouble was precipitated by the request of California and New Mexico, territories acquired through the Mexican War, and Utah, for admission to the Union. Since California and New Page 205 Mexico had already excluded slavery in their constitutions, and since Utah was expected to do so, bitter opposition to the prospect of losing most of the new territory developed in the South. In Congress passions flamed in the representa|tives of both North and South, secession was freely threat|ened, and for a time disruption of the Union seemed pos|sible, if not likely.
But tremendous efforts to effect a compromise finally suc|ceeded. California was admitted as a free state; Texas, involved in a boundary dispute, was appeased by a grant of $10,000,000; and provision was made for the admission of New Mexico and Utah at a later date with or without slavery as they themselves should decide. To pacify the South a much more stringent fugitive slave law was passed, and to soothe the anti-slavery sentiment of the North the slave trade—but not slavery—was forbidden in the District of Columbia.
Originally these measures, which constitute the famous Compromise of 1850, had been referred to a committee of thirteen, headed by Henry Clay. From this committee came an "omnibus bill" providing for the admission of California, the settlement of the boundary of Texas, and the organiza|tion of New Mexico and Utah as territories. On this the opposition combined, and for a time the bill seemed likely to be the rock on which the country would go to pieces.
While tension was at its highest, the people of Springfield gave voice to their own feelings. On June 13 the newspapers published a call for a meeting of citizens favorable to the solution proposed by the committee of thirteen, to be held in the court house on Saturday evening, June 15th. Included among the eighty-three signers were men prominent in both parties—Democrats like Governor A. C. French, Mason Brayman, John Calhoun and Nicholas H. Ridgely; and Whigs like John Williams, John T. Stuart, Robert Irwin, and James H. Matheny—but the names of Abraham Lin|coln, Page 206 Stephen T. Logan and William H. Herndon were absent.
On Saturday night the court house was crowded. John Moore, of Bloomington, the state treasurer, was called to the chair, and care was taken to apportion the other offices of the meeting among representatives of both parties. Strong resolutions endorsing the proposed compromise, and assert|ing that it was favored by an "overwhelming majority" of the people of Illinois, were introduced and passed. Judging from the editorials which appeared in both newspapers, not only at this time but throughout the controversy, the meet|ing and its action accurately represented Springfield's at|titude.
Before a final vote was taken on the omnibus bill, added solemnity was given to the national crisis by the death of President Taylor. When the news reached Springfield on July 10 the merchants closed their stores and business ceased for the balance of the day. Three days later, minute guns were fired and bells tolled from two o'clock in the afternoon until four—the hours of the President's funeral. Two weeks later, in congress, the proposal of the committee of thirteen came to a vote, and met defeat. Then, under the leadership of Douglas, the measures were taken up separately and passed. By the end of the summer compromise had been effected, the sections were at peace, and slavery— so it was said—would never again be a disturbing factor in the nation's life.
Nevertheless, it was a ghost which could not be completely exorcised. Officially dead, the issue could not be kept out of the congressional campaign of 1850, for Thomas L. Harris of Petersburg, the Democratic candidate, kept charging the Whigs with responsibility for the crisis through which the country had just passed; and Richard Yates, his Whig op|ponent, felt impelled to assert repeatedly that while he was against the extension of slavery to the territories, he was Page 207 not an abolitionist. But the people were tired of the agita|tion. When James Shields came to Springfield in late Octo|ber, fresh from Washington, he held a large audience for two and a half hours while he described the adoption of the compromise measures. When he concluded, the meeting not only endorsed the compromise, but gave its especial ap|proval to the fugitive slave law, which had aroused a fury of opposition in the North, by resolving that it "imposes no duty upon the citizen inconsistent with the constitution of the United States, and that its execution will be acquiesced in by every good citizen; and that we will, in all the several relations we bear to the country, cordially and heartily aid in its execution."
So far as one can judge from the presidential campaign of 1852, slavery really was a dead issue in national politics. In Springfield the campaign started in June. Early in the month the telegraph brought news of the nomination of Franklin Pierce by the Democratic National Convention. Local party men were disappointed. For weeks the Illinois State Register had carried the name of Stephen A. Douglas at its masthead, and now a nonentity was presented as a candidate. A ratification meeting was announced, postponed, and finally held in the State House. The usual speeches were made, but no great enthusiasm could be gen|erated for a candidate of whom the rank and file of the party had never even heard.
In the nomination of Winfield Scott two weeks later the Whigs were not much more fortunate. Military fame had turned the trick for Taylor, but the Mexican War was al|ready fading into the past, and Scott lacked Taylor's per|sonal appeal. Nevertheless, the Whigs too held their ratifica|tion meeting, and organized, not too hopefully, to overcome the ingrained Democratic proclivities of the state.
The news of Scott's nomination was less than a week old when the wires brought a bulletin which touched the towns-people Page 208 deeply. Henry Clay was dead. The idol of his party for decades, Clay had won the respect of all lovers of the nation by the battle he had fought for the Union in 1850. On the evening of the day news of his death was received, party friend and party foe met at the State House, where Abraham Lincoln, as chairman, appointed a committee to make arrangements for a suitable memorial service. One week later—on July 6th—the first of seventy-six minute guns (one for each year of Clay's life) was fired at eleven o'clock in the morning, the stores were closed and business was suspended. With the last gun a procession formed, with the Odd Fellows, the Temple of Honor, and—ironically— the Sons of Temperance and Cadets of Temperance at its head! At the Episcopal Church the Rev. Charles Dresser read the service for the dead. The meeting then adjourned to the State House, where Lincoln spoke in eulogy of the dead Kentuckian.
By mid-summer the faithful of both parties had organized clubs which met at frequent intervals to shout the virtues of their standard-bearers, but the people remained apathetic. The only real enthusiasm of the campaign was manifested when Douglas visited the city late in October. Then, in spite of a driving rain, crowds surged around the railroad sta|tion, waiting to escort him to the State House where, from the south portico, he responded to James W. Barrett's ad|dress of welcome. The next day, when he spoke in the Hall of the House of Representatives, the room was packed, and hundreds crowded the stairways and the rotunda in an effort to catch the booming bass of "the favorite son of Illinois." It was easy to see whom the Democrats really wanted. Nevertheless, a few days later they dutifully went to the polls and helped to swell the majority which made Franklin Pierce President of the United States.
The first year of the new administration passed unevent|fully. And then, on January 4, 1854, Douglas, as chairman Page 209 of the Senate Committee on Territories, reported a bill to organize the territory of Nebraska. Disregarding the fact that by the Compromise of 1820—the Missouri Com|promise—slavery had been prohibited in the region from which the new territory was to be formed, the bill left all questions pertaining to slavery in the hands of the inhabit|ants. An immediate uproar followed. Amendments were proposed, rejected and adopted, until on February 6 the bill emerged in final form. By that time the slavery provision had crystallized into a declaration that the restriction pro|vided by the Missouri Compromise was "inconsistent" with the Compromise of 1850, and therefore "inoperative and void," and that it was "the true intent and meaning" of the act "not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof per|fectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States." Four months were to elapse before the fate of the legislation was determined, but one fact was apparent at once—the problem of slavery was again before the Ameri|can people, more ominously than ever.
Springfield's reaction was immediate, though not vocifer|ous. Twelve days after Douglas's report the Journal de|plored the introduction of the bill, and declared its opposi|tion to any molestation of the compromise measures. As the debate progressed, it gave its support consistently, though in moderate terms, to the Anti-Nebraska bloc which quickly formed. Moreover, if Abraham Lincoln was correctly in|formed, the Democrats were hardly less disturbed than the Whigs by what was taking place in Washington. A month after the introduction of the original Nebraska bill, the Illinois legislature met in special session. "Of the one hun|dred members composing the two branches of that body," Lincoln wrote in 1855, "about seventy were Democrats. These latter held a caucus, in which the Nebraska bill was Page 210 talked of, if not formally discussed. It was thereby dis|covered that just three and no more, were in favor of the measure. In a day or two Douglas's orders came on to have resolutions passed approving the bill; and they were passed by large majorities!!!"
However this may have been, the Democrats, once lined up, remained solidly behind the measure. When, after months of uncertainty, news of its passage reached Springfield on May 23, the Springfield Artillery brought out their field piece and fired a national salute, and then 113 guns for each vote which it had received. "The booming cannon announced a moral victory more glorious than can be achieved upon the bloody fields of Europe, should her present wars last a century," proclaimed the Register. But the cleavage which the bill had wrought, not only in Springfield but throughout the North, was evident from the Journal's comment: "The old 'Nebraska swivel' was pulled out last night, and pounded away one hundred and thirteen times to the number of the 'band of traitors' that have just enacted the great lie of 'popular sovereignty' over the heads of the American peo|ple."
With the Nebraska Bill on the statute books, both friend and enemy awaited the fall congressional campaign, when it was certain to be the paramount issue. But before that campaign commenced, an incident took place in Springfield which illustrated the intensity of the emotions which the slavery question had by this time aroused.
In the course of an Illinois speaking tour, Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky, widely known as an abolitionist, came to the Illinois capital on July 10. The secretary of state refused to allow him to speak in the rotunda of the State House, where his meeting was to have been held, so a stand was hastily erected in the Mather grove.1 There a large crowd, many of whom, like Lincoln, lay prone on the grass, listened Page 211 to him denounce the slavery policy of the ruling party for two hours and a half. Time and again hecklers taunted him, but "he spoke boldly, proudly, his sentiments—in the face and eyes of all the contumely and insults thrown upon him . . ." and made a "GREAT HEROIC SPEECH." Thus spoke the Journal. But to the Register "sentiments more atrocious never found a place in the heart of the foulest traitor that ever meditated the destruction of his country." Editors, in 1854, were not accustomed to treat each other with any ex|cess of politeness, but passion was behind words like these.
Two months later the campaign opened with a debate between Lincoln and John Calhoun. The issue was the Nebraska Bill, and not the personal merits of the two candi|dates—Thomas L. Harris, the Democrat, and Richard Yates, the Anti-Nebraska Whig. Thereafter friend and foe clashed weekly in Springfield—Harris himself and Stephen T. Logan, Murray McConnel and James C. Conkling, and many others. But the high point of the campaign came with the state fair in early October. Knowing that large crowds would gather at the capital, the politicians disregarded the publicly expressed disapproval of the fair's managers and planned to assemble in force.
Chief interest centered in the address which Stephen A. Douglas was scheduled to make. A month earlier Douglas had returned to his home city of Chicago to find himself exceedingly unpopular. When he tried to justify his course at a public meeting in Chicago on September 1, the crowd howled him down until he finally gave up the attempt. But Springfield's temper was different. Passing through the town a few days before the fair opened, Hopkins' artillery had signalized his arrival with a national salute, the German band serenaded him, and for hours crowds surged through the American House, where he stayed overnight, to shake his hand and wish him well. The friends of his youth were still faithful.
Page 212Douglas's address, a justification of the Nebraska Bill nationwide in its significance, was announced for the after|noon of Wednesday, October 3. Anticipating a huge audi|ence, a stand and 5,000 seats had been erected in a grove southwest of the town, but because of rain the meeting had to be transferred to the State House. There the Hall of the House of Representatives, the stairways and the rotunda were all jammed, and hundreds were turned away for want of room. When the short, stocky figure of the Little Giant appeared cheer after cheer broke from the crowd. For three hours he spoke, while his hearers alternated between tense quiet and spontaneous applause. It was a masterly justifica|tion of the measure on which he had staked his political future.
When Douglas concluded, Lincoln, who had sat immedi|ately in front of the speaker throughout the meeting, arose to announce that on the next day, at the same time and place, either he or Lyman Trumbull, or both, would speak in reply. On Thursday afternoon it was Lincoln who stood before the crowd to carry the Anti-Nebraska attack. For three hours he too held forth. When he finally finished, cheers rocketed through the Hall, for his supporters were even more de|lighted than the friends of Douglas had been twenty-four hours earlier. Douglas's quality was known, but heretofore Lincoln had been only one of many political speakers— shrewd, witty, sometimes boisterously funny, but so far as Springfield knew, no certain match for his great opponent. Yet this speech had a depth and seriousness about it which marked it off from those which had preceded it as clearly and sharply as the line between black and white. In three hours Lincoln had placed himself at the head of the Anti-Nebraska forces in Illinois.
When Lincoln concluded Douglas spoke briefly, and that evening James Singleton, a former Whig, and Thomas L. Harris piled up more arguments in favor of the Nebraska Page 213 Bill. The next day crowds turned out to hear Sidney Breese and E. D. Taylor attack the Nebraska policy and John Cal|houn defend it. At night Trumbull, who had come up from Alton only that day, spoke to an enthusiastic audience. But the speeches of Douglas and Lincoln remained the high points of the series.
Few took seriously the "Republican" convention which was held in the State House on the afternoon after Lincoln's speech. Prominent among the participants were Ichabod Codding and Owen Lovejoy, well known abolitionists, Wil|liam H. Herndon, and Erastus Wright, "who, of himself," sneered the Register, "has enough of the elements of a dis|unionist to constitute one entire abolition convention. . . . Ichabod raved," the editor continued, "and Lovejoy swelled, and all indorsed the sentiments of that [Lincoln's] speech." Fearing just that, and more serious entanglements as well, Lincoln himself had climbed into his old buggy and started for court in Tazewell County. This was not the time, he well knew, for a rising politician to have his record indelibly stained with abolitionism.
A month later the votes were counted. In the Springfield congressional district the Democrats had won and Harris was elected, but over the state as a whole a majority of Anti-Nebraska members had been elected to the legislature. In three months came the sequel, when the two houses met in joint session, with the galleries packed, to elect a successor to James Shields in the United States Senate. On the first ballot forty-four votes were cast for Abraham Lincoln. No other candidate received as many, but the number was still short of a majority. As the balloting progressed the Demo|crats switched to Governor Matteson, Lincoln's supporters slipped away, and Trumbull, who had started with five votes, gained in strength. Finally, on the tenth ballot, when it was apparent not only that his own election was impossible, but also that Matteson's election was imminent, Lincoln Page 214 swung his remaining supporters to Trumbull, who was elected. Eight days later the Illinois Journal carried a short news item: "A large number of anti-Nebraska members of the Legislature met on yesterday, and partook of a din|ner provided by the liberality of Mr. Lincoln. . . . The affair passed off very pleasantly."
With 1855 came reaction from the tension of the pre|ceding year. "In political matters Springfield was never quieter than it is now," wrote a correspondent of the Chicago Democratic Press in the late spring. "Even that interminable theme 'Nebraska,' has ceased to be a matter of interest; while the recent outrages of 'squatter sovereignty' in Kansas, though shocking to the feeling of all good men, are scarcely thought of a moment after reading of them in the public prints." In mid-September Douglas spoke in Metropolitan Hall on the Democratic party and the elements opposed to it, but while the hall was filled to capacity, the calm was not broken. Of more interest was the visit, a few days later, of Joshua Giddings, the Ohio abolitionist, and Codding, his Illinois colleague. For once both parties were in agreement. An uncalled-for violation of the political calm, said the con|servative Anti-Nebraska men; "it is not required that any such enthusiasts . . . should travel around to teach us our duty." "The usual amount of abolition rant and fustian and bare-faced falsehood!" snorted the Democrats. Only the Republicans—and they were few in number—were pleased.
But 1856, the year of a presidential campaign, promised to be different. Since the passage of the Nebraska Bill op|ponents of that measure had been working independently, and often as not, at cross purposes. Anti-Nebraska men of Democratic antecedents distrusted those who had formerly been Whigs only less than they distrusted the faithful Demo|crats; Old Whigs disliked the turn events had taken but saw no reason for abandoning their own party organization on that account; and all elements shunned the Republicans Page 215 because of their radicalism. But for several months these groups had gradually been moving toward common ground, and it was apparent that the forthcoming campaign would be fought with some kind of a unified organization.
A big step in the direction of such an organization was taken on Washington's Birthday, 1856, when a number of Anti-Nebraska editors, with Abraham Lincoln as a special adviser, met at Decatur, adopted a set of resolutions, and made plans for a state convention to be held at Bloomington in the spring. On May 10 the Illinois State Journal published a call for a county convention to meet in Springfield and select delegates to the state meeting. Signed by Lincoln, Herndon and 130 others, the call was addressed to all who were opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and in favor of "restoring the administration of the General Government to the policy of Washington and Jefferson." Two weeks later a sizable gathering assembled at the court house and selected Lincoln, Herndon, Logan and George R. Weber as delegates. Resolutions denouncing the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and endorsing a reasonable fugi|tive slave law were adopted, but the most significant declara|tion was one which stated "that in the attempt to prevent the consummation of the wrong of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and to restore the authors of that repeal to the peaceful walks of private life, we will unite with all who are willing to unite with us—but we distinctly state that we will go no further in any agitation of the question of slavery."
On May 29 the convention assembled at Bloomington. Something of the atmosphere which pervaded the meeting may be gathered from the editorial which appeared in the Illinois State Journal on the same day. "They [the dele|gates]," said the editor, "are there to take steps for the protection of those liberties which have been, and are now threatened by the party in power. Aggression has followed Page 216 aggression, until a period has arrived when, in order to preserve their own rights, the freemen of the North must rise in their majesty and say to the monster: 'Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.'"
In framing a platform and laying plans for the ensuing campaign, however, the moderates prevailed, but after the business of the convention was finished, Lincoln stirred the delegates with the most impassioned speech of his career. Reporters, carried away by his fervor, forgot to take notes, but words alone could never have recorded the passion which caused the audience to explode in cheers, and fired those in attendance with an enthusiasm which carried them through the entire campaign.
Ten days later a meeting to ratify the action of the Bloomington convention was held in Springfield. The court house was crowded.2 Calmly, slowly, Lincoln related what had happened at Bloomington and asked for the approval of the meeting. After he had finished, John M. Palmer of Carlinville took the stand and added his own appeal. The audience responded with three cheers for the ticket and three for Lincoln and Palmer, and then dispersed.
Meanwhile, on June 6, the news of the nomination of Page 217 James Buchanan as the Democratic candidate for President had reached Springfield. As soon as the word was received a national salute was fired, and that evening the Democratic Association met and ratified the nomination by acclamation. But to many a Springfielder the news came like a breath of chilly fog. For months the Register had carried at its mast|head the slogan, "For President, Stephen A. Douglas," and the rank and file of the party looked upon the dynamic Senator as their very own. Moreover, Douglas had seemed to be the outstanding contender for the honor, which could not have been said of him four years earlier. Now he was passed by again, and for an elderly time-server who was his complete antithesis. Genuine enthusiasm could hardly have been expected. "In this community," sneered the Journal, ". . . the nomination of Buchanan has fallen like a wet blanket."
However, the Democrats took comfort in the belief that Douglas would be the certain victor in 1860, and set out to organize for the task at hand. Following time-honored forms, a rally was scheduled for June 26. Throughout the morning of that day delegations from nearby towns and villages crowded Springfield's streets. At noon a procession formed and marched northward to Edwards' Grove.3 There several rounds from Hopkins' Artillery and music from the German band signalized the opening of the meeting. On a stand hung with flags and decorated with mottoes like, "The Union as it was—The Union as it is—The Union For|ever," were gathered the party notables—Ex-Governor French, Governor Matteson, Lt. Governor Moore, A. G. Herndon and others. First on the program came John Hogan of St. Louis, an Old Whig. John A. McClernand followed, and C. H. Constable, another Old Whig, concluded. (The Whig party was breaking to pieces, and the wooing of the Page 218 more conservative among their former opponents was a prominent phase of Democratic strategy.) That evening there was speaking at the State House, and more Old Whigs who had joined the Democratic ranks were put forward.
Tactics of this sort were made more fruitful when the first Republican National Convention nominated John C. Fremont on June 19. (Springfield was chary of the word, "Republican." For two years the opponents of the adminis|tration called themselves "Anti-Nebraska" men, and even in this campaign they shunned the national party label and preferred to be known as "the supporters of Fremont and Dayton.") Though personally popular, the character and antecedents of the candidate were not likely to reassure those who feared that the new party would take an extreme posi|tion. Radicals like William H. Herndon were undismayed, but the majority were better pleased by the honor accorded to Abraham Lincoln, when 110 votes were cast for his nomi|nation for the vice-presidency, than they were over the prin|cipal nomination.
Nevertheless, the Fremont men, like the Democrats, re|solved to do their utmost, for state and local offices were tangible prizes no less real because one had only a lukewarm admiration for the head of the ticket. Both parties organized clubs which held frequent meetings throughout the cam|paign, supplied speakers for meetings in villages and country schoolhouses, and sent delegations to gatherings in nearby towns.
But the favorite device of the campaign was the rally, which drew the faithful from many miles around for a field day of political oratory. Sometimes several were staged dur|ing a campaign, but usually there was one which the party workers labored to make larger and more impressive than anything of the kind which the town had ever witnessed. Such was the Democratic demonstration which took place on September 18, 1856.
Page 219As early as the evening of the 17th there were crowds of strangers in Springfield. Among the visitors was a band from St. Louis which serenaded the Governor and other prominent Democrats, and then, not yet tired, struck up tune after tune in front of I. B. Curran's jewelry store. In a short time a crowd had gathered, cheers for Buchanan, Douglas, Richard|son and other favorites rang out, and speechmaking started, to continue far into the night.
Early the next morning Springfield bloomed with flags and banners. Lines were strung from the State House dome to the buildings on the four corners of the square and hung with Buchanan and Breckenridge banners and party slogans. Stores and residences were festooned with bunting. By rail|road, by carriage and wagon, on horseback and on foot peo|ple poured into the town. The day became a holiday, and business, except at the bars and restaurants, was suspended.
Late in the morning the inevitable procession formed and proceeded to the grove of P. P. Enos and A. Kessler north|west of the city. There, after one other speaker, Stephen A. Douglas took the stand. "Time and again we have heard him, but never before was he greater . . . ," Lanphier wrote in the Register. "He reviewed the entire political field, and showed up, in glowing light, the shape of the contest now pervading the country. . . . Shout upon shout followed the homethrusts and happy hits he made at the abolition enemy. He showed up their designs. He dissected the ma|chinery of their organization. He tore off their hypocritical mask, and exposed to his hearers the corruption of the trick|sters who trade in negro sympathy and Kansas roorbacks. His discourse was overwhelming, and carried conviction to the mind of every hearer of the justice of the democratic cause, and the utter corruption and demagogism of those who advocate the cause of Fremont."
After Douglas, W. A. Richardson of Quincy, the Demo|cratic candidate for Governor, and Thomas L. Harris spoke Page 220 briefly. When they had concluded, representatives of the Ger|man and Irish voters held forth until six o'clock. Even then the crowd was not satiated, for that night there were still more speeches, punctuated by salvos from Hopkins' Artillery and music from the St. Louis band and the German band of Springfield.
Seven days later the Fremont men tried mightily to outdo their opponents. Again the town was crowded with strangers —seven carloads from Chicago, and five each from Decatur, Alton and Jacksonville, besides many smaller delegations. Again flags and streamers waved above the streets. Once more a procession formed, heading this time for a grove west of the city. Behind a band from Chicago came a "beautifully ornamented car" in which were seated thirty-one white|garbed girls representing the states of the Union. Banners expressed the temper and tenets of the party—"Our glorious Union: it must and shall be preserved"; "Down with the compromise breakers"; "Fremont, the people's candidate"; and "Bissell, the hero of Buena Vista."
There was no Republican Douglas, but Lyman Trumbull, Owen Lovejoy, B. S. Edwards, Brown of Jacksonville and Bross of Chicago held the crowd until late afternoon. That night Representatives' Hall was jammed to capacity while Abraham Lincoln delivered "a most masterly speech," and John Wentworth and Edwards, who was doing double duty, added their eloquence to the cause. Throughout the day German speakers had appealed to their countrymen in their own language.
By demonstrations such as these, Democrats and Fremont men all but monopolized public attention, but actually the election was to turn on a smaller, less demonstrative group —the Know Nothing and Old Whig remnants which had rallied to Millard Fillmore as a third party candidate. In Springfield this group had taken shape at a meeting held late in July. At that time a Fillmore Club was organized, one or Page 221 two rallies were held, and Shelby M. Cullom, then at the beginning of his political career, raised enough money to start a campaign newspaper, the Conservative.
Astute politicians in both of the larger parties realized that in Illinois at least, this was the group which held the balance of power. Impelled by the necessity of winning a large part of those whose natural tendency was to follow the Fillmore banner, Abraham Lincoln resorted to an in|genious device. Having drafted a persuasive argument to the effect that a vote for Fillmore was really a vote for Bu|chanan, he wrote it in the form of a personal letter, carefully making an interlineation or two so that its appearance would be perfectly natural, and then had it lithographed. After he had filled in the date and the name of the addressee, and had written the word "Confidential" in a conspicuous place, only the keenest eye could have detected its true character. Dozens of these letters went out to Old Whigs of Lincoln's acquaintance. All went well until near the end of the cam|paign. Then, at a rally in the country, one old farmer called several of his friends together to talk over something which troubled him deeply. After swearing them to secrecy—for the matter was "confidential"—he pulled one of Lincoln's letters from his pocket and handed it to one of his friends. The second man read a sentence or two, laughed, and handed it to a third, who was soon laughing also. Each pulled an identical letter from his pocket. The story soon reached Springfield, and Lincoln became the object of both ridicule and denunciation.
Other Fremont men attempted in their public speeches to make the same point at which Lincoln had aimed. For argu|ments of this sort the Democrats were as keenly alert as the Fillmore men themselves, for they knew very well that their opponents were a majority, and that their only hope of suc|cess lay in maintaining the division between them. Typical of the Democratic attitude was the Register's comment on one Page 222 of the speeches of Benjamin S. Edwards. "On Wednesday night," said the editor, "Mr. B. S. Edwards shrieked for several hours, to prove that he was a better whig than those of that party who support Fillmore. He satisfied himself, doubtless, and the corporal's guard of Fremonters about town, who have hitherto wailed with Garrison and Wendell Phillips; but on Thursday evening the Fillmore club was ad|dressed by Hon. John T. Stuart, Matheny and others who, in reply, placed Ben. as a Whig, in anything but an enviable attitude. His sudden conversion to 'Lovejoy or the devil,' in preference to a maintenance of the constitution, and the rights of the states, was severely commented on, and he and his new associates shown up in a light repulsive to any national man, whig or democrat."
By this time Stuart's position had become too much of an irritant to the Fremont men to be endured in silence. In the organization of the Fillmore group he had played a promi|nent part, declaring that although he deprecated Know Noth|ingism only less than Republicanism, Fillmore's personal integrity and public character were such that he would sup|port him for the Presidency. Because of his prominence in the old Whig party and his high standing as a citizen, his example was a weighty one. For weeks his old associates ignored his defection, but when he took Edwards to task, the Journal scuttled caution and gave him a piece of its mind.
"Our old friend Major Stuart," the editor wrote, "is a very clever, honest sort of an old gentleman—who likes his ease, and who, no doubt, thinks his 'strength is to lie still.' In the last great contest of 1852, when Whigs in this State were alive, he slept. No effort could arouse him. Since 1844, when he retired, having been the recipient from the Whigs of all the honors he desired, he has literally in every Whig contest been almost, if not altogether an idle spectator. His heart, his real political feeling is with the principles as laid down in the Republican platform. The only trouble with Page 223 him is, he is mad because his laziness has been disturbed. . . . His conscience is with us, but if he yielded to its dictates, he would have to work—and he is mad. He tries in vain to satisfy that conscience, by ebullition against the very doc|trines his heart advocates."
Election day—marked by one shooting, one stabbing and a number of street fights—gave statistical proof of the im|portance of the Fillmore vote. In Springfield 912 votes were cast for Buchanan, as against 549 for Fremont and 403 for Fillmore, but in the county as a whole, Fremont dropped to third place.4 Over the state, however, Fremont received only 8,000 votes fewer than Buchanan. If only a fourth of the 37,451 votes given to Fillmore could have been won for him, he would have been victorious in Illinois. To the Democrats, however, the presidential victory was small compensation for the other losses they had suffered. Although Richardson car|ried both Springfield and Sangamon County,5 Bissell swept the state and carried the other Republican candidates for state offices with him. Even in Sangamon County, which gave large pluralities to the Democratic candidates for both Presi|dent and Governor, Republicans were elected to all except one of the county offices.
The Republicans were jubilant, for with a party organiza|tion perfected only a few months earlier, they had routed their opponents in all except the presidential contest. The in|auguration of Bissell, on January 12, 1857, gave them an opportunity to manifest their joy. At two o'clock in the afternoon the guns of the Springfield Artillery thundered a national salute. Then the general assembly, the judges of the supreme court, the city officials and a large number of citizens marched to the Mansion, where the new Governor Page 224 and the other state officers held a formal reception and were sworn into office. The procession then returned to the State House, where Bissell read his inaugural address. That eve|ning the Republicans assembled in the Hall of the House of Representatives to listen to their leaders congratulate the party on its achievements. "The speeches were all char|acterized by great good feeling," the Journal reported, "and the enthusiasm of the audience often vented itself in rounds of applause. The interest continued unabated until a late hour, and many expressed themselves 'that it was good to be there.'"
Normally, interest in politics would have abated until the next presidential contest, but the shadow of slavery was deep|ening too rapidly to make peace possible even for four short years. In March the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision in the case of Dred Scott. Stated in its simplest terms, the question at issue involved the ability of a negro, once a slave, to become a citizen of the United States and bring suit in its courts. Chief Justice Taney, voicing the opinion of the majority of the court, declared that Dred Scott was not and could not, under the constitution, become a citizen. Unwisely, the court went beyond the immediate issue, and declared further that Congress could not exclude slavery from the national domain, and therefore the Missouri Com|promise was illegal.
The immediate effect of this decision was to bring the slavery question once more before the country. Only the South was satisfied. In the North, the decision robbed the Anti-Nebraska forces of their one tangible remedy for the Nebraska Bill—the restoration of the Missouri Compro|mise. The Democrats were hardly less happy, for if slavery could not be excluded from the national domain, how could a territorial legislature choose between freedom and bond|age? In view of the Dred Scott decision, what became of popular sovereignty?
Page 225A few weeks after Congress adjourned, Douglas was in Springfield. Promptly the grand jury of the United States court invited him to speak on the political issues of the day. He accepted, and set June 12th as the date.
The Democratic dilemma was still unsolved, so interest in what he would say was even greater than usual. Long before dark the Hall of the House of Representatives was jammed. In prominent places were Abraham Lincoln, Wil|liam H. Herndon, Shelby M. Cullom (who by this time had come into the Republican organization) and other well|known opponents. At eight o'clock Douglas mounted the rostrum. Speaking slowly but with all his usual force, he laid down the platform of the Northern Democrats—the right of the master to his slave, affirmed in the Dred Scott decision, was "a barren and worthless right, unless sustained, pro|tected and enforced by appropriate police regulations and local legislation, prescribing adequate remedies for its viola|tion. These regulations and remedies must necessarily de|pend entirely upon the will and wishes of the people of the territory as they can only be prescribed by the local legisla|tures." By deciding that the Missouri Compromise was un|constitutional, the court had actually vindicated the prin|ciple of popular sovereignty. When the speaker concluded at ten o'clock, the audience burst into prolonged cheers. The Democrats had been given an escape from their corner, and their opponents were downcast.
For nearly two weeks Republican leaders tried to get the grand jury to invite Lincoln to speak on the other side of the question, but to no avail. Finally he decided to reply to Douglas, invitation or no invitation, and announced his speech for the evening of June 26. "We think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous," he declared. "We know the court that made it has often overruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it overrule this." When important decisions were made unanimously, he went on to say, and in Page 226 accord with established precedent and unquestioned historical fact; or, lacking some of these elements, when they were affirmed and reaffirmed over a course of years, not to ac|quiesce in them would be factious or even revolutionary. But when a decision lacks all these supports, he asserted, "it is not resistance, it is not factious, it is not even disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite established a settled doctrine for the country." But although the fair-sized crowd ap|plauded the speaker, there was some truth in the Register's observation that "he fell immeasurably short of even mak|ing an impression on any position taken by Judge Douglas."
A month later slavery was lifted from the realm of polit|ical argument and placed squarely on Springfield's doorstep as a living, human problem. Late in July, a few miles south of the city, the United States Marshal arrested a negro who was alleged to be a fugitive slave from Missouri. As it was Springfield's first case of the kind since the passage of the fugitive slave law of 1850, interest was widespread. When the U. S. Commissioner, S. A. Corneau, heard the case a few days later, the courtroom was crowded; but there were no threats of violence, and the general attitude was that if a fair trial should show the fugitive to be a slave, he should be returned to his owner. After W. H. Herndon and John E. Rosette had argued the case for the defendant, and E. B. Herndon and John A. McClernand had appeared for the claimant, the commissioner took it under advisement. A few days later he decided that the negro should be returned to Missouri. The crowd which had gathered to hear the decision quietly dispersed.
For the balance of the year the panic crowded both poli|tics and slavery to secondary places in the public mind. But early in 1858 politics were in the foreground again. By that time the stern problem of making a living had eased some|what, while there had been startling developments in the na|tional scene. On the question of the admission of Kansas Page 227 Douglas had broken irrevocably with President Buchanan, and it was apparent that the full strength of the administra|tion would be thrown against his re-election to the Senate, which would be in the hands of the next legislature. It was also apparent that the Republican candidate would be Abra|ham Lincoln—the most dangerous opponent he could have. But defeat for Douglas would be an inglorious end to a political career whose full promise had not yet been realized. The campaign for seats in the general assembly, it was quite obvious, would be worth watching.
The campaign started in April, when both branches of the Democratic party—the Douglas men and the followers of Buchanan—met in Springfield on the 21st. The Douglas men assembled in the Hall of the House of Representatives and proceeded to nominate W. B. Fondey for state treasurer and A. C. French for superintendent of public instruction, the only two state offices to be filled. Across the hall in the Senate chamber the Danites,6 as they soon came to be called, spent the day in "schemes of party disorganization, and in giving vent to sorehead feeling"—or so the Douglas organ reported—and postponed their nominations until a second convention to be held later. "The Democracy parted in not a very encouraged frame of mind," Lincoln informed Elihu B. Washburne. Far different was the temper of the group of Republican leaders who gathered informally in the eve|ning. Among them all was harmony and hope, and each felt that if the party failed to triumph, they had only themselves to blame.
Six weeks later—on June 9—the Buchanan men met again at the State House and nominated candidates for the state offices. Two hundred delegates were in attendance, but a third of them came from Cook County, while more than half of the state was not represented at all. Obviously the Bu|chanan Page 228 men had little popular backing, but they controlled the patronage of the national administration, and that was sufficient to make them a dangerous factor.
Seven days later the State House was the scene of the Republican State Convention. From all parts of Illinois the delegates assembled, more than a thousand in number. Cheered by their victory of two years earlier, they were con|fident of success. Speedily they adopted a platform, selected a state central committee, nominated James Miller for state treasurer and Newton Bateman for superintendent of public instruction, and passed unanimously a resolution declaring "that Abraham Lincoln is the first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the United States Senate, as the successor of Stephen A. Douglas." Then they adjourned until eight o'clock.
That night, after Gustave Koerner had called the packed audience to order, Lincoln mounted the speaker's stand. Slowly, impressively, he opened his speech with fateful words:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, the agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly aug|mented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall— but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of Page 229 ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South."
With this as an introduction, Lincoln delivered a short, compact argument to show that the national trend was to|wards the expansion of slavery, and closed with a plea for Republican solidarity. The delegates cheered, but many of them had misgivings. Lincoln's had been a "radical" utter|ance—some of them called it "a damned fool speech." But they listened to the other speakers who followed, cheered them also, and scattered to their homes with confidence high.
Soon after the conventions, active campaigning com|menced. On July 9, in Chicago, Douglas made his first speech.7 A week later, on the 16th, he set out for Spring|field. At Bloomington, where he spoke that night, a large delegation from Springfield greeted him. On the next day the ovations along the route were so continuous that six hours elapsed before the sixty-odd miles were covered. Fi|nally, at three in the afternoon, the booming of minute guns announced the Senator's arrival. As the train stopped at the Edwards' Grove, a cannon mounted on a platform car an|swered the salute, and the thousands who had gathered in the driving rain did their best to drown out the sound of both guns.
Escorted to the stand by the Capital Guards and the Capi|tal Band, Douglas was greeted by Benjamin S. Edwards, now in the Democratic fold. Though a recent convert, Ed|wards expressed perfectly the peculiar fervency of the Sangamon Democracy's regard for the Little Giant. "In other places," he said, "political attachment dictates the public manifestation. Here personal friendship claims the prominent position. We cannot forget, nor do we desire to Page 230 forget, that here was once your home; that here among us were spent the days of your early manhood, and before posi|tion and fame had deservedly made you the Douglas of the United States you were the Douglas of 'Old Sangamon.' In short, sir, while assembled multitudes may receive you to cities, here and here only can your friends give you a 'wel|come home.'"
"My heart is filled with emotions," Douglas replied, "at the allusions which have been so happily and so kindly made in the welcome just extended to me—a welcome so numerous and so enthusiastic, bringing me to my home among my old friends, that language cannot express my gratitude. I do feel at home whenever I return to old Sangamon and receive those kind and friendly greetings which have never failed to meet me when I have come among you; but never before have I had such occasion to be grateful and to be proud of the manner of the reception as on the present." And then he went on to deliver a characteristically forceful defense of his own course and a sharp attack on his Republican opponents. Five thousand followers heard him to the end regardless of the rain, cheered him to the echo, and then escorted him to the St. Nicholas Hotel.
That night, while the jubilant Democrats touched off fire|works in honor of their chief, Lincoln spoke at the State House. A goodly crowd gathered to hear him repel the charges of disunion sentiment, resistance to the Dred Scott decision, and negro equality which Douglas had made. It was an able address—in a letter he called it the best he had so far made—but while it heartened his friends, it caused no consternation among Democrats flushed by the presence of their invincible leader.
A few days later Lincoln challenged his opponent to a series of joint debates and Douglas accepted. While the con|testants were planning their itineraries, local leaders started to perfect their organizations. Summoned by William H. Page 231 Herndon, the younger Republicans formed the Young Men's Republican Club, elected C. C. Brown president, and pre|pared to supply speakers for meetings in the county and hold frequent gatherings of their own. Soon afterwards their opponents organized the Democratic Club, with John A. McClernand at its head. After mid-August not a week passed without a meeting of one or both of these organiza|tions.
By this time both candidates were actively stumping the state. Springfield watched their progress with never-lagging interest. The local papers reported each of the joint debates in full, printed many accounts of the other addresses of the candidates, and in the interim filled their columns with par|tisan matter of diverse kinds. As time went on the editors lost restraint and indulged in personalities to the limit. Typi|cal of many a newspaper report was the Register's account of a Buchanan meeting in which W. H. Herndon, for reasons obvious to all parties, played a prominent part.
"Billy Herndon, Lincoln's man Friday," said the editor, "appeared in a new character at the Court House on Tues|day night, as moderator of Danite performances. During the evening a drunken man was somewhat noisy, after Billy's own style of a few years ago, when a democrat present en|deavored to quiet him, and was about taking him off, when Herndon seized the drunken man and brutally hauled him downstairs, yelling, 'God damn the Irish, I want it distinctly understood that we (the Danites and Republicans) are will|ing to have war with them.' The man hauled out by Herndon is an American, but his remark only tends to show up the new move of woolydom to catch American votes. Republic|anism cannot secure the votes of Irishmen, and wants it now 'distinctly understood' that they are for war with them."
In its attacks on Benjamin S. Edwards the Journal was equally abusive. Although no Republican had been more ac|tive than he in 1856, Edwards went over to the Democratic Page 232 party the following year—motivated, he said, by the increas|ing radicalism of his former associates. In his new alignment he was outspoken against his former friends. At frequent intervals throughout 1858 the Journal raked him with its hottest fire. Morover—and this did not often happen, even in days when politics were a serious business—many of his personal friends ignored him, and ill-feelings developed which took many years in the healing.
In at least one instance newspaper intemperance resulted in physical violence. Early in September E. L. Baker, the editor of the Journal, charged John A. McClernand with the authorship of a Register article which he had found offensive. Shortly afterward McClernand met Baker on the street, denied that he had written the article in question, and demanded that he publish a correction of his statement. Baker answered that he had nothing to retract, whereupon McClernand belabored him with his cane until bystanders stopped the fracas.
Before the campaign was over, another honored name was the subject of political recrimination. A month before the election the St. Louis Republican announced that John T. Stuart, whom it described as the one-time opponent of Doug|las and the long-time friend of Lincoln, would support the Democratic candidate. The Journal denied the report at once, but a few days later the Register announced that Stuart had authorized it to state that he agreed with Douglas on the slavery question and that he was wholly opposed to the Re|publican party, but that because of his personal relations with Lincoln he was taking no part in the senatorial contest and would not vote for members of the legislature.
Besides the meetings of the political clubs, there were larger rallies at frequent intervals. When Douglas stayed in Springfield over a week-end in early September a large crowd greeted him at the railroad station, escorted him to his hotel, held a formal ceremony of welcome, and saw him Page 233 off when he left for Jacksonville on the following Monday. When he spoke in the capital on October 20th, the town was decorated with flags and mottoes, bands played, cannon boomed, and 5,000 braved roads and streets made almost im|passable by rainy weather to hear him speak. When Lincoln spent the week-end of September 25th at home, Springfield Republicans procured a band and serenaded him. Only the Buchanan men failed to draw crowds. A meeting at the court house in early October drew only a small audience, and the Register charged that this was made up in the main of Re|publicans. "Seven, all told, were Reynolds'8 gang," the paper sneered "—four of them holding office and the other three waiting for tits. Never was an honest cow tugged by such lousy calves."
But with all the meetings, large and small, the frenzied partisans were not satisfied. Let a big rally be scheduled at any city within a reasonable distance, and special trains would be made up to carry fervid supporters within the sound of the speakers' voices. Thus in early September two hundred Democrats, accompanied by Merritt's Cornet Band, went to Jacksonville to hear Douglas. Later in the same month the Republicans filled a special train of eleven cars for a Lincoln rally in the same city. After a whole afternoon of oratory they were able to return to Springfield, assemble on the court house yard, and listen to speeches by Milton Hay, James C. Conkling and Richard Yates!
At last the campaign neared its close. The Douglas meet|ing of October 20th was the last big effort of the Democrats, and the final Republican rally took place on the 30th. Its pattern was familiar—delegations from nearby cities, flut|tering flags and banners, parades and fireworks. During the afternoon Lincoln spoke from a stand on the east side of the square, concluding with an eloquent and touching reference Page 234 to his own part in the contest. "In some respects the contest has been painful to me," he said. "Myself, and those with whom I act have been constantly accused of a purpose to destroy the Union; and bespattered with every imaginable odius epithet; and some who were friends as it were but yesterday have made themselves most active in this. I have cultivated patience, and made no attempt at a retort.
"Ambition has been ascribed to me. God knows how sin|cerely I prayed from the first that this field of ambition might not be opened. I claim no insensibility to political honors; but today could the Missouri restriction be restored, and the whole slavery question be replaced on the old ground of 'toleration' by necessity where it exists, with unyielding hostility to the spread of it, on principle, I would, in con|sideration, gladly agree, that Judge Douglas should never be out, and I never in, an office, so long as we both or either, live."
After Lincoln came Richard Yates, who spoke until six o'clock, and that evening a succession of speakers held forth in the rotunda of the State House. Late that night, when finally the town was quiet, the campaign came to an end.
On November 2 rain fell throughout the day and the streets were in a terrible condition, but the largest vote ever polled in the city was turned out in spite of the weather. The next day it was apparent that Douglas had won his re-election. Over the state as a whole the Republican candidates had received a majority of the popular vote, but the apportionment favored their opponents, and Douglas's re-election was a certainty. In Springfield and Sangamon County the vote was close, but the Douglas candidates had clear majorities over their Repub|lican and Danite opponents.9
Page 235Two months later the general assembly of Illinois met in joint session. Before crowded galleries James W. Barrett of Sangamon nominated Stephen A. Douglas for the United States Senate; Norman B. Judd of Cook nominated Abraham Lincoln. A few minutes later the vote was announced: Doug|las, 54; Lincoln, 46. "Glory to God and the Sucker Democ|racy," Lanphier wired to his chief in Washington. A short time afterward he sent a second telegram: "Announcement followed by shouts of immense crowd present. Town wild with excitement. Democrats firing salute. Guns, music, and whiskey rampant." Back from Washington came the mes|sage: "Let the voice of the people rule."